Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
When we were planning our summer vacation with my sister and her family, we had rather quickly settled on the Netherlands, since it is close, child-friendly and very beautiful. Halfway through June, however, my brother-in-law found out he would need to be operated on a few days before we had planned to leave, so we decided to change the plans and camp at my partner’s house, so that my brother-in-law could sleep in a proper bed as he recovered.
When we started out, I had my reservations about whether this would end up feeling like a true vacation. For me, letting go of stuff that needs to be done is really, really, really hard. Getting far away from that stuff is usually the only tactic that really works, and that wasn’t going to happen this time. In the end, I think the whole week was a real success, though there were definitely a couple of lessons we learned along the way as well.
Camping out in the backyard had a couple of really great advantages:
- We had everything we needed and more: a full functioning kitchen, toys, clothes, a washer… Everything in our own home was fully accessible. For my sister and her family, this also meant that they didn’t need to pack their kitchen supplies, toys or blankets. And if we needed anything, it was just inside waiting for us.
- We saved quite a bit of money by not going to a camping ground and not spending the money on gas to drive there. This meant that we were a little looser with our cash and did a few fun activities that cost a bit more: tourist boats in Bruges, an amusement park, the movies… We also ate out a few times.
- I didn’t have to worry about finding someone to come feed the cat since we were just right across the street (where my partner lives) and just came back and forth to feed her. The same goes for taking out the mail, tending to the garden, harvesting veggies, etc.
- When my son needed some downtime to destress, his familiar home was just right here waiting for him. I spent one of the days with him as well, so he had some time alone with me which calmed him down.
- Shopping for food and supplies is easy when you know all the shops already. And sure, it’s nice to eat food you normally don’t eat, but my regular super market has tons of products that I never buy, so it’s just as easy to get exotic in the kitchen when shopping at home.
- Your campsite is very private. What you dress like, how late you stay up talking and what you leave lying around is your own business. You’re not bothering anyone and noone bothers you.
There were a few disadvantages also:
- For my partner, it took some adjusting to open his house to 7 other people who don’t usually live there. The house got dirty because we lived outside most of the time and his life at home was pretty much on display for us. I think he managed better than I would have in the same situation, but then again, that’s not really a surprise.
- The trips we took were to mostly familiar places. That’s fine for one summer, or maybe even two, but it might get boring after a while. The same goes for the restaurants or shops you visit.
- It’s tempting to still do the work that you would normally try to do. It was easier than I thought to let go, but I was also not in the house I usually live in. I noticed that for my partner it was a little harder to switch into full ‘vacation’ mode when his tax papers were still lying around and e-mails kept coming in.
I think that the way we approached this vacation had a big impact on its success. We had established, from the start, a few guidelines that made it a mostly relaxed and very enjoyable week. So here are some great tips if you’re planning to vacation at home and still feel like you’re getting the traveling vibe:
- Don’t stay put!
Where we would normally spend some time in our lodgings as well when on vacation, this time we tried to plan a lot of excursions. We planned them on the day my sister arrived so that we could communicate clearly with the kids as well. We did different kinds of trips: visiting the city, going to a museum, going to the beach, a petting zoo…
- Get a pool!
My partner bought a pool in the weeks before the vacation and had it fully set up by the time our camping guests arrived. It made the whole place instantly feel and look like a summer vacation. The heating pump he added only made it more amazing.
- Sleep in tents!
My sister and brother-in-law brought their trailer tent and we set up a few tents with air mattresses. We don’t usually sleep outdoors so this was already a break from our usual routines. The fact that the smell of a trailer tent automatically brings me back to the summers we spent in France as a kid only added to the magic.
- Go for easy meals!
Just because you have a full kitchen available to you, doesn’t mean you can’t eat the way you would on a campsite: easy meals that take as little prep as possible allow more time to enjoy other things, such as the company you are with. Eating out and take-out are great options, too, if you can find a menu that pleases everyone.
- Buy baguettes!
I know this one sounds silly, but if you’re a Belgian who often vacationed in France, you will get this. Vacations in our family were filled with baguettes and other French breads. But they sell them at every bakery and supermarket here as well. The bread really helped make me feel like I was on vacation.
- Stay outside!
It can be tempting to go into the house, especially if it’s a bit chilly. One of the evenings, we did end up watching Friends on the couch. But most days were spent almost entirely outdoors, where the activities were all non-work related. Being outdoors for most of the day also allows you to settle into a different rhythm.
- Adjust your expectations!
It’s probably no coincidence that I wrote this post on expressing expectations last summer, when we were also preparing to travel with family. Manageing, expressing and adjusting your expectations is a must when you prepare for a vacation that is different from what you’re used to. Home life often follows different rules than holiday life, and figuring out what you will keep from either of those is a good start. Traveling with family or with friends always comes with the expectations of multiple parties. It’s best to know what those are before you embark.
We will spend quite a bit of our summer at our two houses, especially now that there’s a pool installed, and also because there’s quite a bit of work to do in both our houses. But after the week we just had, I’m really excited about what the rest of the summer will bring. There are so many options, and there is so much fun to be had right in our own back yard, literally!
I hope you’re enjoying your summer just as much! Have a great one!